Browsing Category: AmeriCorps

Team DC gears up for its 2nd annual long term project at DC Public Libraries

AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Washington DC is excited to announce its 2nd annual long term project, joining forces with the DC Public Library system to commemorate 2011 National HIV Testing Day. Team DC will be conducting a two-day HIV testing effort at multiple public libraries in the metro DC area.

Events on Friday, June 24 will consist of smaller-scale testing events at Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, Petworth, Benning, and Anacostia Public Libraries. On June 25 we will host a large-scale testing event of free HIV testing, community resources, condom demonstrations, games, prizes, and a public screening of the community-made documentary ‘The Other City’, which follows several DC residents’ stories of living with HIV/AIDS as well as outlines the epidemic that affects the Washington DC community (www.theothercity.com).

Team DC is currently busy getting the word out to agencies, media, and the community at large. We hope to have the full community’s support as we proceed in our effort to sustain HIV testing in public libraries.

Mission Accomplished: Team Chicago’s Long Term Project

As everyone who joins the AIDS United AmeriCorps Caring Counts program knows, the idea of creating a long term project and executing it within approximately ten months is extremely daunting.  But not at the beginning.  In the beginning, each member thinks of all of the amazing projects that a motivated group of individuals can accomplish.  There’s a sense of “we can do anything!” that comes out during the first few 5th day meetings when team members bounce ideas around.  Eventually, two or three months into the service year, team members start feeling that there isn’t anything they can accomplish together.  The project ideas that bounce around become simpler and seemingly more attainable but finding a consensus seems utterly impossible.

For our team, there was a day when one of our members put all of our ideas into perspective and our long term project was discovered.  We knew we wanted to reach out to young people with limited access to education about safe sex.  We knew, as a team, we wanted a part of the project to include outreach in the Chicago community and a part that would provide solid education and a chance for young people to ask questions.

After encountering various obstacles and regrouping to come up with some different ideas, we decided to work in collaboration with a neighborhood YMCA to put on a health fair for high school-aged young people in South Chicago.  We worked hard to raise funds for the project which included organizing a bar event, writing letters to companies for in-kind and cash donations, and soliciting friends, family members and coworkers for donations on our IndieGoGo website.  We ended up raising around $1,300 for the project which was more than enough to buy supplies and a hefty amount of raffle prizes.

Despite some rather unfortunate weather, we had a solid turn-out at the event.  At all times someone was having an HIV test and being counseled on how to protect themselves.  We provided condoms and various pamphlets to young people aged 13-19 who were interested in our services.  Team members made flashy posters displaying information about HIV and STIs.  We also included a question activity where people could pick a question and try to answer it or find the answer on the board.  The questions focused on common myths about HIV and STIs.

The event ended with our raffle which included prizes like iPod Nanos, Target gift cards, Chicago Transit Authority passes, and the grand prize of a one-year membership to the YMCA, our hosts.  Many of the attendees who stayed until the raffle won a prize and people left smiling.

We learned a lot about working as a team and collaborating with other organizations throughout this project.  One of the most important lessons we learned was how to be flexible.  Everything demanded us to think flexibly and plan flexibly for unforeseen obstacles that we may encounter.  We learned to plan ahead and consider everything and anything that could get in our way.  It was an experience that tested our patience and creativity but, in the end, was a success.

AmeriCorps Week Reflections from Team Indy

Throughout my time serving as an AmeriCorps Member I have had the privilege of becoming acclimated not only to the field I am interested in but was empowered to bring about significant programming and support within the same community I was raised in.

Transitioning out of college into the real world, I have been given the chance to take on leadership roles, individualize my own experience by creating my own curriculum and along with my team create a long-term project.

These long-term projects I must say have been the most significant aspect of the program to me. My first year in the program, we hosted an HIV/AIDS art show. The second year we hosted a youth conference on healthy relationships. Both years the feedback we received from attendees was similar. They wanted to know this was going to continue-that this would become an annual event.

Sustainability of a team’s long-term project who only serves one year is not necessarily feasible. On the other hand, it is feasible that we have made a path towards understanding of how an abstract concept can come into existence, that may be duplicated by others.

Each year, each team nationwide in our program puts together a long-term project, and although it is typically created as a onetime event the impact is still significant and speaks volumes to the desire for the community to have groups like ours in place to fill these gaps in the community. Perhaps the foundation of the impact these long-term projects have stem from the fact that most of our members are eager, energized, and ready to work. They have not had the opportunity to become jaded by the ins and outs of the work world, therefore bringing a fresh perspective to an idea that may have become typical and monotonous.

The AIDS United program as well as all other AmeriCorps Programs most importantly, connect people to other people, resources, information, and support for a minimal cost, while giving the AmeriCorps member the opportunity to grow.
-Ebony Barney

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as an AIDS United AmeriCorps member, this opportunity has allowed me to gain work experience in the field public health. This has been a rewarding yet challenging experience that has brought about professional and personal development. Deciding long ago that service would be one of my life’s objectives, I could not imagine not taking the opportunity to expand my skills and comfort zones through this program. I have been blessed to meet new friends and colleagues along my journey as an AmeriCorps member as well making community connections in a new city.

My main joy from this experience comes from the daily interaction I have with clients that come through the Damien Center food pantry. I have the opportunity to educate and engage people from various backgrounds, cultures, and social groups as I serve as the Food and Nutrition Coordinator. Although, not my ideal position I have took on this arduous task of being a great resource to help meet the nutritional needs of all clients. In working through my personal restraints of this position I have found enjoyment in being an aid to people. Every time I hear, “thank you,” I begin to remember my purpose and how each food pantry order is fulfilling my needs of others.

I believe that AmeriCorps is mutually beneficial to the communities in which volunteers serve as well the volunteer. My personal situation is testament of this, I graduated from college with a degree in International Relations, but I aspired to pursue a career in public health. In having no health background I was not making progress in my desired career, but the opportunity of AmeriCorps has allowed me to breakthrough this barrier and gain hands-on work experience in the field I most seek to work in. As I gain the work experience, my community gains a willing and dedicated volunteer ready to serve her community in any capacity. AmeriCorps has enhanced and challenged my skills in many capacities; helping to develop my leadership and professional abilities while satisfying my personal desire to serve my community.
-Ashley Kirkpatrick

Joining the AIDS United AmeriCorps/Caring Counts program was one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself. I developed an interest working with HIV in college and I could not imagine a better way to continue that work and develop my skills in the field. Working with people infected and affected by HIV truly makes me feel like I am making a difference in the lives of others and also makes me grateful for the opportunity to be able to do so.

Through my agency placement at Step-Up, Inc. and my work in their Youth at Risk program I am able to talk to youth who are currently in a juvenile detention center or drug/alcohol rehabilitation facility and give them the facts about HIV/STDs, sex education, drugs/alcohol, pregnancy, and various other topics that affect the lives of at-risk youth. Through discussions, videos, and worksheets the youth and I are able to have conversations about activities they participate in and steps they might take in the future to protect themselves and their partners.

I feel the difference AmeriCorps makes when I have a youth tell me that they are going to start using condoms or are going to talk about HIV/STD testing with their partner upon release. I feel the difference when youth from the rehabilitation facility I visit join me for various talks with other groups and bravely share their stories of drug/alcohol abuse, struggles, and recovery so that others may avoid taking that same path. I feel the difference when I reflect on my day and think of all the people I talked to, the places I have been, and the questions I have answered.
-Katie Doherty

Someone recently asked me if the work I was doing for AmeriCorps was “working.” I took a moment to sincerely ask myself if I felt I was making any kind of an impact on HIV/AIDS in the United States.
My mind immediately flew through the handful of patient interactions that have stayed with me all through my ten months in AmeriCorps. As an HIV tester in an emergency room, many of my days are filled with much monotonous testing.

With a prevalence of roughly 1 in 1,000 coming through our ER, the odds are that most of my patients will test non-reactive. However, when the reactive line on the Oraquick test shows up and I have to give news to someone who wasn’t even asking for it in the first place; these moments are the reason I am there. More than often, the reactive patient is one that comes in with a common ailment. HIV is the last thing on their mind.
Beyond the number of tests and newly diagnosed infections, there are less tangible effects. Every patient that I interact with (regardless of whether they are tested or not) has HIV/AIDS brought to the forefront of their mind. In addition, having HIV testers readily available to physicians and nurses not only reminds medical staff of this potential diagnosis, but makes testing patients with suspicious symptoms easier and more efficient.

So, yes. My work is making a difference in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I am testing more people, getting patients into care quickly, and spreading the word about the realities of the disease in our country. For these reasons, this year of service with the AIDS United/Caring Counts program will resonate with me well into my career in the health field and for the rest of my life.
-Lisa Passmore

Strongly believing in the existence of social justice for all, and becoming aware of others struggles and disadvantages are reasons AmeriCorps is so powerful. AmeriCorps’ mission clearly emphasizes the readiness to provide services to any persons, which coincides with my willingness to assist anyone regardless of circumstances; this is why I serve in AmeriCorps.

Thus far this year has been a remarkable experience and has allowed me to see firsthand what a little care can do and has inspired me to seek change within myself. To be a part of this service opportunity that allows me to further educate myself and other individuals who may suffer from disease, disability, and other economic & social challenges, moves me every day. Working within this program, I now understand the true definition of service and realize what a little can do in prolonging the life of a client.

Throughout this year I have allowed myself to be open to new surroundings and increase my leadership abilities. Through this program I have mirrored AmeriCorps mission by assisting my community regardless of class, cultural differences, and sex; there is nothing more self-fulfilling.

I recommend this program to anyone that is serious about service and is willing to put the effort in to assure change…everywhere!
-Naomi Williams

Super 5th Day Comes to Chicago

AU AmeriCorps Super Fifth DayApril 29-30, 2011 – AIDS United AmeriCorps Teams Indianapolis, Detroit, and Chicago joined forces to help out at the PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) shelter in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood as part of a Super 5th Day collaboration.  During the day on Saturday, members from the three teams worked together to clean and disinfect animal cages and “dog beds” which look like mini trampolines.

We started off by carrying the folded up cages outside, which proved to be no small feat as some of the cages were quite heavy!  Members took turns spraying the cages with disinfectant and scrubbing off the animal residue with scrub brushes.  We let the solution sit for ten minutes before spraying the cages down with a hose.  Once the cages were rinsed off and had air dried, we prepped our muscles again and brought them all back up the stairs to the PAWS storage area.

Every half an hour or so, four lucky members got to take some of the shelter dogs for a walk in the neighborhood.  Some of the canines we got to know included a funny little chihuahua wearing a sweater, a three legged lover, and a stunted pit bull who would continue looking like a puppy forever.  Needless to say, the volunteers were smitten with the puppy-pit and he even made an appearance in our group photo at the end of the day.

The type of work was new to many of the AmeriCorps members; however, working with such a large number of volunteers was truly empowering.  It was incredible to see the amount of work we accomplished with such a large group!  The experience reminded us of how important it is to come together to get things done.  It gave us the opportunity to experience the essence of community organizing.  We also enjoyed catching up with members from other teams who we hadn’t seen since the pre-service training in Santa Fe.

The staff at PAWS were pleasantly surprised by our efforts and the speed with which we accomplished the challenging tasks they gave us.  Members were unafraid to get their shoes, pants and shirts wet and dirty.  It was a fulfilling experience that should be repeated in the upcoming AIDS United AmeriCorps service years.

Team Indy Impacts Area Teens Through CHOICES Youth Conference

On Friday, April 22nd, Team Indy hosted a conference for Indianapolis high school students entitled CHOICES: Make Your Own. The conference was our team’s long term project, and the culmination of five months of planning and preparation. Held in Indianapolis, this conference included interactive sessions, a service project, and a presentation by Picture This, an interactive theater group. The ultimate goal of the conference was to empower youth to make their own decisions, with the long term vision of improved health and well-being. While we were united under this single goal, it took a number of players to make CHOICES a success.

Community leaders from the fields of health, education, and HIV/AIDS led six different interactive discussions with topics ranging from self-esteem to community service. Three panel discussions, led by groups of teens, provided firsthand accounts of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and community service.  About 60 youth participated, along with 30 presenters, 10 agencies, and 15 volunteers.

In addition, various community members were in attendance to understand the needs of Indianapolis youth. Ms. Audrey Satterblom, a community member, described the event as “a remarkable program” that she hoped could be brought to all high school students within IPS. Mr. Jermaine Couch, a conference presenter and care coordinator for the Damien Center, described the conference as “just what this community needs and more” adding that he “had a lot of fun interacting with these youth.”

While the conference was led by presenters, the emotions, reactions, and participation of the students punctuated the event and brought it all together. Describing what she had gained from CHOICES, one student said “I’ve learned to love myself and be cautious of the decisions I plan on making.” Other students commented that as a result of the conference they had learned to “value [their] self-worth” and “love [themselves] no matter what.”

Team coordinator Ebony Barney described the inspiration for this conference saying “to prevent new HIV infections, we must address healthy relationships first. For example, a person who is struggling with domestic violence is going to have difficulty making a decision that will stop them from becoming HIV positive. Through the examination of healthy relationships in their entirety, students are empowered to take control in their own lives, setting an example for other young people to follow. Ultimately, these young people will be the ones to determine the role that HIV and other health issues will play in the future.”

We were able to see our vision come to life through the CHOICES conference and are still feeling the resounding effects that our program has had on the Indianapolis community.

To see a video documenting the CHOICES conference, click here.

Love Me Tender: Team NOLA Flirts with Bondage

Having already walked dogs at the animal rescue, weeded a sculpture garden, and repaired a house destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, Team NOLA next decided to volunteer at a bondage education night. On February 16th, Team NOLA volunteered at the New Orleans Gay Men’s Wellness Center’s inaugural event– “Love Me Tender: Flirting with Bondage the Proper Way”.

The Wellness Center is a project of the Louisiana Office of Public Health which focuses on promoting health in all aspects of the body, mind, and spirit. Team NOLA member Brandon, who serves as an Americorps member at the Wellness Center, planned and organized “Love Me Tender”. At this event, attendees were educated on safe bondage practices as well as offered free, rapid HIV testing.

The event took place on the second floor of John Paul’s, a gay bar located in a beautiful house in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans. Team NOLA arrived an hour early to help set up the event.

Brandon opened the event with an exercise to break the ice. A volunteer stood with his/her back to the audience. Then Brandon held up a word and the audience gave clues to the volunteer to help him/her guess the word. All volunteers were awarded prizes, such as condoms or a copy of Rough Trade, an anthology of gay S&M erotica.

Next, local masseuse and bondage expert Patrick Tyrus gave a talk about safe bondage practices. Some of the topics he covered were the best knots and ropes to use, basic safety rules, and the importance of communication.

After a short break, Tyrus gave a live demonstration of all the topics he had just discussed. He tied up a woman who had previously arranged to volunteer and demonstrated different ways to use spanking, chopsticks, and clothespins in one’s bondage practice. After some Q&A, the event was over. Some audience members took the opportunity to have Tyrus demonstrate a few rope ties on them.

The event was a success. The small room was bursting with about 35 attendees, 3 of whom were tested for HIV and all of whom were educated on safe bondage practices.